Looking Ahead at the DOD S&T Budget: 2001 and Beyond
These remarks were presented on December 16 at the first meeting of the National Research Council's "Committee on Review of the Department of Defense Air and Space Systems Science and Technology Program." The defense authorization bill for FY 1999 required that a NRC committee be established to "result in recommendations on the minimum requirements for maintaining a technology base that is sufficient, based on both historical developments and future projections, to project superiority in air and space weapons systems and information technology." The committee is also to "address the effects on national defense and civilian aerospace industries and information technology of reducing funding below the goal" that will be determined under the first charge. Staffing issues at the Defense Department are also to be examined. The committee has 14 members, is chaired by Eugene E. Covert of MIT, and is to report by December 2000.
Committee members were briefed by congressional defense staffers, also speaking on a non attribution basis. They explained that peacekeeping costs are up significantly, while the "top line" for the department continues to shrink. In such circumstances, R&D and procurement are the first budgets to be cut. Defense R&D, they charged, is down 14% over the last five years.
The congressional staffers said that the Defense Department justifies the decline by saying that big systems are moving into the procurement phase. The staffers could not, however, find "big ticket items" that would support this contention. They explained that cuts in procurement were more easily identified in industrial job losses that were noticed by Members of Congress. In contrast, the impacts of cuts in R&D were more difficult to "capture." The legislative provision requiring this NRC committee to examine the level of defense spending was a result of bipartisan frustration with cuts in defense R&D. An independent assessment is needed, the congressional staffers said, to answer the question, "Is this enough?" At the conclusion of their presentation, they cautioned that there were "red flags" in the upcoming FY 2001 budget request.
The NRC members then heard from the senior defense official. He told the committee that reductions in R&D were the equivalent of eating the Defense Department's seed corn. Beginning his presentation with a graph showing declines in constant dollars since FY 1989 in some 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 budgets, he said that it had been "death by a thousand cuts." Until recently, he explained, there had been little support for defense S&T on Capitol Hill. The situation on the Hill has changed, he contends, because of 480 jobs that were lost in several important states resulting from a $95 million cut in the Air Force's core S&T program. The official said that stability in the S&T budget was critical.
The NRC committee clearly has a major task to accomplish, as the presenters agreed that no one has yet devised a satisfactory system to allocate defense S&T dollars. The committee's overall objective would seem to be aligned with the Department of Defense S&T Mission: "To ensure that the warfighters today and tomorrow have superior and affordable technology to support their missions, and to give them revolutionary war-winning capabilities."
Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics